Boeing Australia powered up the commercial turbofan engine on the first Loyal Wingman aircraft earlier this month for the first time as part of ground testing and preparations for the unmanned drone’s first flight.
The milestone comes on the heels of Boeing completing the first unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force earlier this year, a major step forward for the unmanned vehicle serving as the foundation for the global Boeing Airpower Teaming System, an artificial intelligence-powered teaming aircraft developed for the global defense market.
Boeing plans to conduct the Loyal Wingman’s flight this year.
The aircraft is one of three prototypes that will be developed as a part of the Loyal Wingman program, which is one of the most advanced projects in the world to develop a manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) concept. Mostly being developed for military applications, MUM-T concepts involve a drone supporting and extending a piloted aircraft during missions.
Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System said, “This engine run gets us closer toward flying the first aircraft later this year and was successful thanks to the collaboration and dedication of our team. We’ve been able to select a very light, off-the-shelf jet engine for the unmanned system as a result of the advanced manufacturing technologies applied to the aircraft.”
The Loyal Wingman announcement shows MUM-T as an emerging niche in the defense sector.
Anthony Endresen, aerospace and defense analyst at data analytics company GlobalData said, “Boeing Australia’s announcement follows hot on the heels of the unveiling of the Grom UCAV in Russia at the Army Forum 2020 exposition. It demonstrates continued progress in the program, which is expected to be an important example of Australian defense export in an advanced area and coincides with the release of the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) review of the Australian plan to become a global top 10 defense exporter.
“China and Russia have both demonstrated progress as both of these states have performed test flights of their respective platforms. Russia is further ahead, having performed numerous tests as well as teaming flights of the S-70 with the Su-57.
At the Army Forum 2020 expo, JSC Kronshtadt presented a new signature-managed UCAV, the “Grom” (Thunder), specifically to team and perform the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses roles. This demonstrated a more advanced portfolio of options in this niche.